There are two types of pain; One that hurts you and One that changes you
When I embraced my mission to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem, I had no idea where the journey would take me. I had lost four young adults on my caseload to a drug overdose and it was some of the worst pain I had ever experienced. They weren’t my biological children and in no way can the pain and loss I experienced be compared to the pain and loss their family suffered, but it shook me to my very core. I felt I had failed them miserably. As their counselor, I felt that I could have done more. I was already working in prevention and advocacy at the time, trying to bring people together in various aspects of this fight, but I never imagined how that pain was going to change me.
The proverbial “War on Drugs” was in reality, a war on drug addicts, not drugs. It created a prison industrial complex in America. Our State prison system ballooned from 400,000 prisoners in 1980 to over 2.4 million today, not to mention county jails, correctional programs, community programs, treatment programs, probation, parole, drug courts etc. It’s an escalating problem with catastrophic results. Handcuffs and prison personally saved my life so I tend to disagree with those who feel we don’t need jails and prisons. Sometimes, the threat of criminal consequences can be the catalyst to urge an addict to take that first step – that “Nudge from the Judge”. But locking people up in and of itself doesn’t work. Incarceration without treatment is futile.
Most of the current news about this pandemic is dismal. Overdose deaths from heroin increased four-fold from 2002-2013. Overdose deaths from other opioids increased dramatically as did overdose deaths from synthetic drugs and prescription medication. 2016 was the worst year we’ve ever seen, and 2017 will be even worse. I predict more than 100,000 overdose deaths this year. I hope I’m wrong, but with the way things are going this first quarter, the pace is unfortunately very real.
It’s irrefutable that America finds itself in the middle of the worst public social addiction crisis in its history. Anyone you talk to today either has a family member struggling with addiction, or knows someone that is and everyone seems to know someone who has died of an overdose. But, it’s certainly not the illicit drugs that are causing most of the problems. Most of this pandemic lies outside of the traditional illicit drug focus and lies at the foot of the pharmaceutical industry.
Fortunately, there still is hope. With all the numbers and statistics, losses and family tragedies, there are real stories of survival. There are people who have battled their addiction and won. It has been estimated that there are more than 23.5 million Americans in Recovery. Whether the number is slightly higher or lower, it doesn’t really matter. There are millions and millions of men and women who have been able to overcome their addiction. The more we share with those who struggle the truth about those who have found recovery, the more we will inspire people to find their own road to recovery. It’s real, it’s everywhere and it’s possible.
Recovery is happening all around us and I set out to capture the stories that only those in recovery could tell. Not the war stories and horror stories, but the stories of overcoming those horrors and the many tales of success. I began a television talk show in the Philadelphia market (SNJTV – www.snjtoday.com) called The Road to Recovery. It has been extremely successful and is now in its third season. I have been able to share people’s stories and family struggles, expert opinions and the upside of down. I have interviewed incredible guests who share amazing stories. Each show seems to get better than the last! But, I decided I wanted to do this not only in PA but across the country. I wanted to get out there on the road across America to share these stories of hope and recovery. I call them “inspirational chronicles of success”. I started travelling more, and as I started meeting new people, I began capturing their narratives on video. I decided it was time to take “The Road to Recovery” literally “on the road”.
Many people believe that the “War on Drugs” was a failure. I knew we needed a new “war” and it needed to be a war on addiction, not on drugs or addicts. And we needed a new “Army” – a Recovery Army. I was determined to build this Recovery Army and I set out to do just that. I wanted to recruit people and I knew that the best way to do it was to go out there and build it. So, I worked incessantly over the past year to acquire a Tour Bus to go “On the Road to Recovery” and share as many people’s stories of Recovery and Hope as possible. I just began this national mission and I am very excited that the Recovery Army Tour Bus is on the road! I want to capture the beautiful stories of Recovery across America and share them with those who are still struggling. I want to push Advocacy efforts further than they’ve ever been pushed before. I want to bring prevention efforts into schools everywhere and make the biggest difference I could ever make. But to do this, I need your help, support and above all, I need to bring everyone together. This pandemic is no longer a war we can fight while splintered and siloed. We can only fight it side by side, together, in unison, United!